Foreigner ready to rock MECU Pavilion

Listen to the full conversation on our podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Foreigner in Baltimore (Part 1)

They’ve toured for decades, but after the pandemic, this tour feels like the first time.

Foreigner is ready to rock the MECU Pavilion in Baltimore, Maryland on Saturday.

“The thing about Foreigner is we have 16 Top 30 songs,” bass player Jeff Pilson told WTOP. “Doing a set list feels like cheating because we have so many songs that the audience knows. You’re going to know just about every song on that set list.”

The band was formed in 1976 by Mick Jones and Ian McDonald, a pair of British natives living in New York City. They added another Brit in drummer Dennis Elliott and joined up with three American musicians with Lou Gramm, Al Greenwood and Ed Gagliardi.

“Hence the name Foreigner,” Pilson said. “They were from two different countries, so wherever they went, somebody in the band was a foreigner. … The chemistry was immediate. The success of the band was practically overnight. … It got off to a great start.”

Their 1977 self-titled debut album was a smash, featuring “Feels Like the First Time.”

“It’s a great song and it still holds up,” Pilson said. “That’s one of the greatest first singles ever from a rock band. It’s so powerful. It’s not only a great message but it’s an instantly memorable and lovable chorus. Who doesn’t want to sing that song? Who doesn’t relate to that song? I still get goosebumps every time we get into the first chorus of that song.”

The breakthrough album also featured the hit single “Cold As Ice.”

“It’s catchy in so many ways,” Pilson said. “That piano intro, as soon as we go [imitates piano], people know the song right away. When you can identity a song from a couple of piano notes, you know you’re off to a great start. Great melody, a timeless recording that still sounds great today. … Mick and Lou together were a powerhouse songwriting team.”

Their second album was aptly titled “Double Vision” (1978) with a hit title track.

“Mick and Lou had gone to see a New York hockey game,” Pilson said. “Somebody got hit by a puck and the announcer said, ‘It looks like he might have double vision!’ Mick and Lou looked at each other like, ‘Good song title.’ They left the game, wrote the song and boom.”

The sophomore album also featured the hit single “Hot Blooded.”

“Who can’t sing it?” Pilson said. “You know what song that is right away. It’s great writing. Those guys made great records with great songs. That’s what stands the test of time.”

Their third album “Head Games” (1979) also had a hit title track.

“I think people all relate to things that turn into head games,” Pilson said. “I think we all relate to that. It’s just a great relatable message on a very powerful, great rock song.”

Their fourth album “4” (1981) featured the hit song “Urgent.”

“Mutt Lange, who was a huge producer at the time producing the Foreigner ‘4’ record, asked Mick, ‘Give me all of your tapes of all your stuff,'” Pilson said. “So, Mutt was going through it and there was a tape where Mick was playing [the] intro to ‘Urgent.’ Mutt said, ‘That’s great.’ … It was urgent that he had to write the song, so there you go!”

It also featured the classic “Juke Box Hero” with its refrain, “One guitar!”

“It was inspired by a true story,” Pilson said. “Mick and the band were pulling up to a gig, I believe in Cincinnati, it was raining. A fan was standing by the backstage door and when the band was walking in, they said, ‘What’s up, man?’ He said, ‘I can’t get into the show.’ Mick invited him in, let him watch from the side of the stage and it inspired the song.”

Foreigner pivoted into ballads in the ’80s with “Waiting for a Girl Like You” (1981).

“It was a real magical song,” Pilson said. “A girl wandered into the control room while [Lou] was singing and just stood there. She was quite striking, so he sang this song to her. By the end, she had left the control room. Nobody ever knew who she was, where she came from or why she was there, but she inspired one of the greatest vocal performances ever.”

They followed up with another epic ballad with “I Want to Know What Love Is” (1984).

“It was a song that Mick wrote one morning,” Pilson said. “He had this drum machine and he started playing around with that opening beat. … All of a sudden, the whole thing just came to him. He ran in and told his wife … ‘I wrote this song! It’s called ‘I Want to Know What Love is,’ and she said, ‘Well, you should know the answer to that!'”

In 2004, Pilson joined the band, which is criminally not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

“One of the comments that we get most often is, ‘Wow, I forgot how many Foreigner songs I knew!'” Pilson said. “That’s a great thing. It makes for a fabulous evening.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Foreigner in Baltimore (Part 2)

Listen to the full conversation on our podcast “Beyond the Fame with Jason Fraley.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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